The Passing of Knowledge

Phillip Barnett —  July 29, 2011

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This summer has been an interesting one for those who are used to following the NBA 365 days a year. With no Summer League, no trade talks and no free agent signings, a lot of us have been forced to get our hoops fix watching old NBA games on ESPN Classic and NBATV. Recently, I watched a pair of Lakers/Bulls games from the 97-98 season. It was the Bulls last run as one of the most dominant units in NBA history and we were barely seeing the seeds being planted for the growth of the league’s preeminent cores in the Post-Jordan era.

Although it still burns me that the Nick Van Exel/Eddie Jones back court never got to the Finals to this day, those years gave birth to the Kobe/Shaq (or the Shaq/Kobe era, whatever) and some of the best basketball in Lakers history. What I appreciate most about those two Lakers/Bulls games from 1998 wasn’t just the Kobe/Jordan matchup, but the fact that Jordan went so hard at Kobe in those games (and in the all-star game). There was a competitive nature in Jordan that made him want to rip the heart out of any kid who the media thought could come for his spot atop the hoops hierarchy. More often than not, Jordan made scoring on Kobe look easy, but he seemingly appreciated the fact that Kobe’s own competitive spirit wouldn’t back down from the greatest who ever lived.

That old great v. budding star dynamic has now been flipped on its head with Kobe now into his 30s playing in a league full of young, talented shooting guards who all want to take a shot at a guy they grew up watching. Today, we can watch Kobe and see how he adapted parts of Jordan’s game into his, then worked on some of those skills to make them his own. I’m not pointing these things out to spark a debate about the merits of their skill levels, but to point out that Kobe has now become the teacher, and we could be watching the next great shooting guard today. We’ve seen how Kobe has taken it upon his self to go hard at guys like OJ Mayo and Eric Gordon, and there may (or may not) be something to read into that. What we do know is that, at some point, there will be another shooting guard who has taken what he’s learned form watching Kobe, and will build his game to turn some of Kobe’s brilliant footwork into moves of his own.

So today, I want to share my appreciation for MJ and Kobe with the (short) video below. It’s a few clips of Jordan giving young Kobe the blues, then some of Kobe doing some of the same to today’s defenders. Enjoy.

Phillip Barnett

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27 responses to The Passing of Knowledge

  1. Speaking of Kobe.. how do fellow readers feel about this potential Turkey contract? It’s a long-shot, but the labor negotiations don’t sound very promising. Looks like we’ll miss at least a chunk of the season, and I do think some players will actually play overseas in that scenario. Personally, I’d like to see Kobe rest & work on strengthening whatever parts of his body need it. But then there’s the question of rust – the older a player gets, the harder it is to shake that rust off. Yeah we know he’s a workaholic and all, but game-ready shape is hard to attain when you’re not in your facilities practicing with the team.

    BTW – great photo find. You can actually see that Kobe’s hand/fingers are indeed smaller than MJ’s.

  2. 1: I was going to comment on the hands. You beat me to it! ;) You are right.

    Bye.

  3. We can also see that Kobe’s finger is taped! Still the correlation between the facial expressions, body stance and intensity is uncanny.

    This could easily be a great selling poster, don’t you think?

  4. For most players playing over seas would be a great thing so they could stay in shape and rhythm without the long break causing them to age overnight. For Kobe though I don’t think it would not matter much since he will always train and condition. For players like Gasol/Odom who don’t workout hard in the offseason playing for national teams or a squad over seas will always help. Part of the reason Odom had a great year and Gasol didn’t can be attributed to Odom’s inclusion on the national team and Gasol’s exclusion of any physical activity over the same summer.

  5. I forgot that Kobe was in the All Star games from early on in his career. So they only played in two regular season games together (or against each other), that makes me want to find tape of those games. I remember Nick Van Exel and he was full of energy, yes it is to bad the Lakers were just not good enough back then to go to the heights that we have been accustomed to in the 2000′s.

  6. GENEVA, Switzerland – “FIBA has confirmed it will approve the transfer of players under contract with the NBA deciding to play for clubs of FIBA affiliated leagues during the on-going lockout.”

    Let’s see how many players – if any – decide to take advantage of this.

  7. never realized how much tension they put on their legs until I saw this photo… (although their weight seems to be on different legs)

    but then again, it would be a normal reflex if somebody was touching your butt.

  8. My first thought when seeing that photo: in most online basketball forums, this picture alone would cause another one of those endless stupid debates about Jordan vs Kobe. Thanks FB&G for always delivering more interesting discussion.

    My fear is that Durant will eventually take to building his mid-range game in the mold of Kobe or MJ. He doesn’t seem like he could bulk up as much as those two, but his length will offset that to still make him a viable threat in the (mid-) post. He seems like the kind of guy willing and disciplined enough to lock himself into a gym and just work on footwork. Let’s hope he doesn’t.

  9. 5: They Lakers were talented enough, one of the years (98?), they had won about 60 games but they were just not disciplined enough to beat a veteran team with a structured offense as the Jazz. Stockton ate the team alive. Malone was Malone. Lakers could have easily gone to the finals both in 97 & 98 were it not for them.

    Would have been interesting to see the bulls vs lqkers in the finals.
    The bulls were all time great territory, but didnt go undefeated
    throughout the playoffs.

    Bye.

  10. 8)

    I wonder if Durant’s slight build will be a real obstacle to developing a post game. Sure, he can get that shot off against just about any player in the NBA. I just wonder if he has enough strength to back some of the league’s stronger SF’s down and get the needed position to even take that shot. I could never see him backing down LeBron James are Carmelo Anthony. And if he moves without the ball I can see those guys easily pushing him off the spot before he even catches the ball.

    Durant is one player who will be interesting to keep an eye on. He is a naturally gifted player. But he does have some very real limitations.

  11. Lastly, if LeBron could consistently hit the shot featured by Jordan and Kobe in that video there would have been a parade in Miami last month.

  12. Ahh great memories watching those clips. It’s funny seeing Kobe falling for those old man “you reach, I teach” moves from MJ. I’m not sure if we’ll see Kobe pass the torch to another SG. There’s no one (young) playing now that I see as a possibility. Wade could potentially be the 3rd best SG of all-time when it’s all said and done but he’s turning 30 next year, so it’s not like Kobe is passing it to him.

  13. @harold

    Their pivot feet are different, which is why Kobe’s right calf is flexed while its the left calf that is flexed for Jordan. Other than that its like watching a mirror. That’s the impression I get from watching these old MJ vs Kobe duels. It’s like watching twins playing against each other. I am now reminded of the fact that other than Clyde, no SG in the league could physically match up with Jordan. Especially since Kobe at age 19 has enough confidence in his post game to back down the GOAT and shoot that turnaround J. And we all know MJ was probably one of the strongest perimeter players in the league. Kobe may have polished his game since then to where he is now a true master, but even back in ’97 his all around game was as nearly as broad as MJs. Like Hubie Brown said, he gave you starters production as a 6th man. Impressive.

  14. @Jeff yeah, that’s what i was hinting at since everyone was saying how the photo was identical (it is really, but i am nitpicky like that).

    I don’t think bulking up really is a prerequisite to having a post game. It certainly helps, and I do know that Yao and Pau have added bulk, but it doesn’t prevent players like KG from operating down low.

    Also, anyone interested in fitness and strength should know that bulk and strength are not really the same thing, as you can easily have one without the other. Not just in the sense of pound for pound, but there really is more than just muscle involved in strength.

  15. There is no chance that Kobe goes and plays in Turkey. He knows that he needs to save his legs for another few runs at the NBA title.

  16. i was impressed with kobe’s defense on jordan.
    it was very good. Just that O was better

  17. @ Xodus, “Wade could potentially be the 3rd best SG of all-time when it’s all said and done…”, I’ve watched b-ball since the early 60′s, trust me, Jerry West is still in the conversation…on both sides of the ball.

  18. Oh, I certainly haven’t forgotten the Logo. But this is something I was thinking about when it looked like Miami was going to win the ring this past June with Wade looking like the FInals MVP. That would have been his 2nd ring and his 2nd Finals MVP. Doubling Logo in both. It would have certainly been reasonable to say that Wade is in the discussion of top SG’s of all time. Whether or not you think he would have passed Mr. West.

  19. @17

    I’m with you on the Logo reference. Jerry seems to be forgotten whenever these proverbial “greatest” this or that lists come up, but the man was skilled. If the Lakers had a great big early in the 60s the way the Celts has Russell, there’s no telling how many more rings West would have won. In my opinion, he’s the best defender at the 2 I’ve ever seen, and I know many say Jordan, but I’m convinced West was a superior on-ball defender.

    Regarding this Kobe/Jordan video, one thing that strikes me is how much one’s lift and upper body strength is important to perfecting the fade away jumper. My point is that even at his age here (35), Jordan still retained abit more lift and athleticism at this point of his career, compared with Kobe. Jordan (except for his 1986 foot injury) never really had a major injury that forced him to change his game. And, he had less mileage than Bryant, and took a sabbatical too. Thus, his fadeaway was abit superior to Bryant’s, as he was slightly bulkier, had bigger hands and had more lift which allowed him to get a cleaner look at the basket and not get blocked. If MJ took 10 fadeaways then, he’d make about 6 or 7, while Kobe would make about 4 or 5.

    Keep in mind that Kobe, even in his athletic prime (2002-2008) was never a freakish athlete the way Jordan was. As some has previously alluded to, even as a young gunner, his game was always more “mature” and polished, thus allowing him to be more of a skill player, rather than a finesse perimeter player i.e. TMac, Lebron, Wade etc.

  20. @10 I really think Lebron is the one to watch as he ages. Right now he relies solely on his freakish athleticism. He has no midrange game and (inexplicably) has no post game, either he’s getting to the rim or chucking up a 3. Whether or not Lebron is viewed as a top 10-15 all time great depends on him developing at least a post game if not also a midrange game.

    As for Durant he will always be able to shoot and get his shot off because of his freakish length. Shooters tend to age better than guys like Lebron that rely on athleticism. Eventually everyone gets injured and their athleticism drops off.
    In this respect Kobe has suffered a disproportionate number of injuries and his ability to change his game and continue to play at an MVP level is astounding to me and really isn’t
    talked about enough. I don’t think u can name 1 other player that could fight through mangled fingers on both hands and a bum knee like Kobe and continue to be a 1st team All-NBA player for 9 out of the last 10 seasons.

  21. #1

    These owners and players just don’t get it, they tinker what is working like the fight of Teapots mentality to reform the system while it’s recovering from recession. What it lacks is timing in expressing their gripes which destroys momentum of fans passion for the sport.

    If you compare Kobe today to MJ, Kobe himself would reject that notion on the path towards MJ, yet it is obvious from his moves, the path towards achievement, there is a pattern to Michael Jordan. Why not admit that MJ inspired him to reach great heights and would try improve further in the end.

    With regards to Van Excel/Jones tandem of being close to getting to the Finals, well that is the definition of that era, they’re “so near yet so far away”, Vlade Divac is just not a good C to go advance against twin towers of Spurs and Malone/Stockton of Jazz. They lacked the passion to close games, it’s all showmanship basketball without the intention of winning. Jones is a good defender and shooter but lacks leadership, Nick is quick in going to Cancun while Ceballos is entitled for more vacation time being a ‘chise’ player and Elden Campbell/Rooks are versions of Rip Van Winkle, sleepy Centers. I hope Mike Brown’s team will not be compared to the 90′s.

  22. 21,
    Shaq was the Center for the last two years of Nick/Eddie Jones teams. Was he a good enough Center? The reason the Lakers couldn’t get to the Finals was mainly because the Jazz had two superstars in Malone and Stockton and the Lakers only had Shaq. Van Exel was a good player and somas Eddie Jones… But none were superstars. The Lakers didn’t get to the Finals or win one until Kobe developed.

  23. Wanted post comparing MJ game to KB should end with 24 comments instead of 23, just saying.

  24. 23,

    Yes Shaq was a good Center but his coach is Del Harris and Rambis. That makes a lot of difference to Zen kind of thinking. I’m sure if Nick & Eddie were Lakers during the PJ’s era, they could have gotten their rings.

  25. @ Xodus & Chris D, the D Wade-Logo conversation perked my interest and for the 1st time since the playoffs, I went to Basketball-Reference. Follow this link:

    http://bkref.com/tiny/OPbin

    to see how D Wade compared to Jerry West at age 29, after 8 NBA seasons. The facts that they were the same age after 8 seasons makes the comparisons even better. And in 8 season, West only played 4 more games than Wade.

    My take, the balance of Wade’s career will determine who’s the better player. And West played a total of 14 years.

    Check it out and enjoy and remember, no 3 point shot in the days of Jerry West.

  26. On D’Wade vs. Jerry West, hard to compare players belonging to different eras, w/ different rules and number of teams. Let their records speak for themselves and compare players belonging to same era like D’Wade vs. Durant etc.